Learn to Quilt Series: Attach borders and piece backing

Where did we leave off last week? Oh yes…with all our blocks sewn together and the quilt top draped across a banister that needs the trim painted to match the baseboards.

Quilting kinda took priority over all the house projects. Oopsie.


This week we will put a border on the quilt and piece the backing for quilting! Like I said last week, the border is optional but it 1) adds some inches, which may be helpful (ahem..I’m tall) and 2) gives you some much appreciated wiggle room when quilting. After quilting, the edges of your top will be shifted somewhat, and it’s incredibly helpful to have a few extra inches to be able to trim the wavy sides square again. Even if you’re sending your quilt to a long-arm, having some trimming room is nice.

I will be writing this assuming you’re using 42″ wide cotton backing – if your backing width is different, measure and adjust accordingly.


So tonight I started cutting the borders, taking pictures along the way as bloggers do. Then I realized my camera didn’t have a card in it. Aaaaand then the battery died. And the replacement battery was dead.

Such is life sometimes, right?

But it’s okay – I staged some extra pictures and you’ll pretend like you can’t tell. We’re resourceful over here like that. You can follow along in the pattern if you’d like – instructions for making borders are found on the last page!

First, cut 7 strips 3″ x WOF (width of fabric) from your background fabric. Leaving them folded in half, cut the selvage off both ends.

Stack all strips up, leaving them folded in half, and take them to your sewing machine. Peel the first layer of fabric out of the way. (If you were using printed fabric, it’s easier to see – the strips are all right-sides-together after peeling back the top layer.) Pick up the second and third layers and sew together with a 1/4″ seam. Continue picking up two layers and sewing seams all the way through your stack – you’ll have one layer left at the end without a mate.

Wonder if I remembered to do what was written on my hand?

Take your tassel of strips to the ironing board, and clip the threads. Set your seams, and though it doesn’t matter what direction you press your strips, I like to peel them up and press.

After you press them all, you want to double check that all your strips are actually sewn into one long strip – and that your seams are all on the same side. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve accidentally twisted a long border strip!

Now measure the length of your quilt along both sides and down the middle – theoretically the should be the same, but quilts are rarely textbook perfect in length! To square up your quilt, take the average if your measurements are not all roughly the same. Cut two border strips from your long strip that length.


Find the center of your quilt and mark it by folding it in half and either placing a pin there or pinching the fabric to crease it. Do the same for the border piece. Line up the center of the quilt with the center of the border – right sides together!! – and pin in place. Next pin both corners – you can stretch your border or quilt a bit if you need to. Finally, pin every 4-5″ in between.


Take the mess to your sewing machine and carefully – you’ve got a lot of sharp pointy sticks in your lap – sew the border strip on with a 1/4″ seam. Press towards the border and repeat with the other side.


Once both side borders are attached and pressed, repeat your measurements across the top, bottom and middle. You’ll cut two more border strips and sew them on and press the same way.

Guess what?! You’re done with the top! Congratulations!


Piecing Backing

To ready the backing fabric for quilting, we need to make it one piece of fabric that’s 4″ inches larger on all sides to accommodate most long-arm quilters’ requirements. Piecing backing can feel overwhelming and is a lot of fabric to wrestle – just go slowly and pay close attention. Use your selvages as landmarks and measure thrice, cut once!

If you recall when we talked about fabric sizing – a yard of quilting cotton is actually 42″ x 36″. Now for a little math (double check all my measurements against your own quilt!):

5 x 5 layout + border = 70.5″ square + 4″ overage on all sides = 74.5″ x 74.5″ backing

4 x 6 layout + border = 57.5″ x 83.5″ + 4″ overage on all sides = 91.5″ x 65.5″ backing

Next you’ll need to decide how to piece the backing into the most efficient layout – I rarely use directional fabric (like text) for backings, to make this as easy as possible. I also struggle between make it super convenient vs. saving money on backing fabric. I’ve gone the frugal route with this pattern – we will use every bit of the four yards you bought!

Assuming you have one 4 yard strip of fabric, follow the directions for the layout you chose:

4 x 6 layout:

  • Cut your 4 yard piece into equal 2 yard pieces
  • Place the two yards right sides together, and trim the selvage off one side.
  • Keeping the pieces right sides together, take to your machine and sew 1/4″ seam all the way down the selvage side you just trimmed. You’ll now have a large piece of fabric 72″ x 84″
    4 by 6 backing step 1
  • Press the seam to either side. Now fold at the seam, fold once more, and cut 7″ off the side.
    4 by 6 backing step 2
  • Trim the selvage off the bottom and sew the 7″ strip to the end – making a backing piece approximately 91″ x 65″. Iron well to get out all the wrinkles.
    4 by 6 backing step 3

5 x 5 layout:

  • Cut one piece 75″ long from your 4 yard strip – set aside. From the remaining 69″, cut 6 inches off – parallel to the selvage.
    5 by 5 step 1 and 2
  • Sew the 6″ strip to the end of your 69″ strip, press, and trim the edges flush – now you’ll have two strips 75″ long.
    5 by 5 step 3
  • Place the two 75″ pieces right sides together, and trim the selvage off one side.
  • Keeping the pieces right sides together, sew 1/4″ seam all the way down the side you just trimmed.
  • Press the seam to either side – the backing piece will measure approximately 76″ x 75″. Iron well to get out all the wrinkles.
5 by 5 final step

We will talk next week in more detail about long-arm services vs. quilting at home – pros/cons, costs, supplies, and designs. To give you more time to browse for supplies if you know for sure you’ll be quilting at home, see last week’s post for a brief list. (I forgot to add a marking pen and basting spray/pins for those that read it last week!)

Thank you to everyone who has shared their photos with me! I have loved seeing your quilts come together – it’s so much more fun than just sewing alone and writing up these tutorials! You can always tag me on Facebook or Instagram @RebaLeighHandmade – it really makes my day to see others making beautiful things. 🙂

Have a great weekend and happy sewing!



Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care

10 Comments on “Learn to Quilt Series: Attach borders and piece backing

  1. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-a-long: Sewing blocks into a quilt top! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  2. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Making your blocks – RebaLeigh Handmade

  3. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Getting started! Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing. – RebaLeigh Handmade

  4. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Fabric! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  5. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Long-arm vs. home quilting and basting tutorial – RebaLeigh Handmade

  6. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  7. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 1 – Sewing machines and basic supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  8. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Introduction! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  9. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Machine quilting – RebaLeigh Handmade

  10. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Binding and finishing your quilt – RebaLeigh Handmade

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: